Housesitting Compensation
March 13, 2012 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Etiquette Experts: What is customary compensation for a housesitter?

We are leaving the country for three weeks and have a housesitter staying over to water the plants and feed our lizard. We have a pretty nice place, and the housesitter:

- Is in his mid-20s
- Lives with his parents in the suburbs
- Is an acquaintance but not a friend
- Seems excited to have a shorter commute downtown for a few weeks

We had planned on getting a thank you gift but didn't discuss any payment. What would be customary or acceptable in this situation?
posted by chundo to Human Relations (39 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've house sat a number of times. The first time I was paid $100 to live in a beautiful house in Alaska for a number of weeks with three dogs. It was incredible to me that I was getting paid at all. After that, I was recommended by that couple, so I was actually able to move out of my apartment and live off house sitting jobs. If I got paid anything, it was never more than $100. But I was always offered free reign of the house and food, with no exceptions. In one case, I was allowed the use of a car. This stuff was always more thrilling to me than money. I would have done it for free, but always appreciated more, of course. People are so generous.

I would offer $50-$100 and all the amenities the house has to offer, personally.
posted by amodelcitizen at 5:36 PM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If payment wasn't discussed explicitly, I'm sure it's not required/expected, but little "thank-yous" are always nice for folks who do you a favour.
Whenever I've had (volunteer) house/petsitters, I've always left a bottle of wine (if they are drinkers), a bit of emergency cash for pet things that might come up, and a gift card to a grocery store. The latter might be especially appreciated by your dude, who might be used to his folks taking care of household groceries (depending on his home arrangement) and therefore would be incurring an extra expense by staying at your place. You could alternately/additionally encourage him to "help himself" to food at your place, but I find that many people are uncomfortable doing this. The grocery gift card provides the same sentiment, without the weird feelings of intrusion. It needn't be an exorbitant amount (in the past I've left anywhere from $25-$150, depending on how long I was going to be away), but serves as a thoughtful, practical way of saying "Thanks, dude!"

Cash works, too. ;)
posted by Dorinda at 5:40 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I always asked for and received a destination t-shirt. I got some wild ones. Check his size.

The gratuity is nice.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:42 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would not leave less than $100. If you're in a major metro area I'd think about $150 - basically $50 a week.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:48 PM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Definitely more than a thank-you would be appropriate. Although it must be nice for a young guy to have more space and eat all your food, it can also be inconvenient to be in a foreign space, having to schlep your stuff around, feed a pet and worry about doing it right, wonder how this damn dryer turns on, etc. He really is doing you a pretty big favour, and I would say a couple hundred bucks if it's two or three weeks' work, would be the minimum.
posted by Pomo at 5:48 PM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: We also told him to help himself to the liquor cabinet, which is somewhat impressive.
posted by chundo at 5:53 PM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I've house-sat a couple times; sometimes I got paid about $10-15 a day; sometimes I didn't get paid at all. It really depends on the circumstances and whether you're doing him a favor, or he's doing you a favor.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:00 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

We also told him to help himself to the liquor cabinet, which is somewhat impressive.

I really think the kid is getting a sweet deal. A $100 might even be unnecessary with that bonus, but I'd give it to him up front for food costs and to be nice.

I'd also bring him a cool souvenir like a shot glass or something else.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:07 PM on March 13, 2012

I base this on me in my mid-20s... wait... even right now at 28 with a real person job... who would be ecstatic at house sitting, $100, free booze and a souvenir.

It'd be like Christmas. Does anyone need a house sitter?
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:11 PM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

$15-20/day at minimum.
posted by k8t at 6:12 PM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Wow, ok. I've never heard of someone who is not a friend house-sitting (and pet-sitting) on a "volunteer" basis. Even if he likes being closer to work, you should compensate him for all he will be doing for you during these three weeks, which is not limited to watering your plants and feeding your lizard. It also includes providing a presence in your home so it is not vandalized, and taking care of anything that should come up.

Someone I know in the Seattle area has done house- and pet-sitting (though, granted, for dogs, not lizards) for $35-$50 per night, so again, I'm amazed that the suggestions are in the neighborhood of $100 for an entire 3 weeks.

I'm also surprised that no compensation was discussed. Has he done work like this before? Did he offer to stay in your house, or did you ask him to? Why does he live with his folks? I am wondering if he is financially desperate.

At any rate, you should definitely compensate him with cash money, not just liquor and the chance to stay in your lovely home. Not everyone drinks, or drinks very much, and cash can be used for whatever he wants. If you have such a nice home, surely you can afford to compensate your house-sitter. Personally I feel that $100/week would be the absolute minimum reasonable, for someone who takes good care of your house and isn't just having parties and drinking up your liquor.
posted by parrot_person at 6:15 PM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

From people I knew: a basket of produce; a loaf of homemade bread; tickets to the state fair.

From people I had only tenuous connections to: I've gotten $10/day + the eggs from their chickens; $100 + a sarong from Hawaii.

Just don't make them feed the lizard freshly-caught live cockroaches (they roam the sidewalks in this city) and it'll all be fine. I had to bring mutual friends over to take care of *that* particular request.
posted by aniola at 6:23 PM on March 13, 2012

Actually, the $10/day + eggs folks usually end up overpaying me.
posted by aniola at 6:26 PM on March 13, 2012

I usually got about $100 a week, free run of the house and pantry (I rarely drink alcohol) and a better commute to work. Oh and solitude; precious, precious solitude. Payment was the same whether there was a pet or not.
posted by deborah at 6:35 PM on March 13, 2012

We've left $50 and a fridge full (full!) of really good (REALLY good!) beer, and $120 and directions to a nearby liquor store. This was for a friend who is currently floating on the kindness of friends.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:42 PM on March 13, 2012

Best answer: There are really three sorts of housesitting scenarios:

1. Professional, paid housesitters. This is pretty clearly not you.
2. Friends or Friends of Friends who've been asked to do a favour for the homeowner / renter.
3. Friends who are really being done a favor under the guise of housesitting for people who might not normally want a housesitter.

It sounds like you're in category 2, in which case a nice gift is appropriate, but payment is not necessary unless it was specifically discussed as part of the deal.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:43 PM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would say calculate $10/hr for the TASKS you've asked him to perform. If you want him to water your plants and you've got a massive garden, that's a pain for no compensation. If you've got one plant, then that's not a big deal.

If he can water all your plants and feed the lizard in 15 minutes, and you're not *requiring* him to stay over (he can do that and leave if he wants) then that would be like, $50 for the entire stay. If the plant watering takes longer, then the cost will go up....but I would recommend, for your sanity, basing it on a reasonable hourly rate (for unskilled work).

You could pay him for travel, but it appears he'd be driving that way on his way to work anyway, so he's really not losing.

I think the guy is really making out in the end.

I've house-sat for a number of people when I was in my twenties and even my bosses didn't pay me to do it if it was just something like, "watering plants". When it was more involved, like, "make sure you're there to take out the dog three times a day" that's when I got some compensation. Nothing against lizards, but they ain't as demanding as dogs. :-)
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 6:44 PM on March 13, 2012

If you can afford it, some cash would be great. Think of it as investing in the relationship so you'll have a trustworthy person to rely on again in the future.
posted by elizeh at 7:06 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd go with the grocery store gift card to cover his meals while he's there, a nice souvenir and some gift cards equivilant to about $100(ish) a week to stores that this person frequents.

If payment wasn't discussed than he may feel awkward about accepting it. Providing gift cards makes it seem less of a payment and more of a thank you.

If they do a good job, the peace of mind you'll get will make a couple hundred bucks feel like money well spent
posted by Beacon Inbound at 7:15 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I house-sat for acquaintances when I was 20 and living in a shared house myself. The acquaintances' house was nicer than mine; I had it all to myself; and it was stocked with good food and booze they said I could help myself to. And it shaved 30 minutes off my commute. They didn't pay me and it STILL felt like I had won the lottery.
posted by lollusc at 7:25 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

We pay between $30-$50/day for sitters here in San Francisco. We also have 4 pets...
posted by cior at 7:26 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hire (and pay) a cleaner to clean the house before you get home. I house-sat a lot in university and the biggest pain was having to clean a huge house (huge compared to my tiny dorm room that is) top to bottom before the owners got home.

Likewise, for you it will be nice to come home to a spotlessly clean house.
posted by lulu68 at 7:32 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hmm. I'm in the camp that unless your house is a fabulous vacation home in the mountains or on the beach somewhere, unless your house is really nice, or your house-sitter's normal living situation very, very shitty, he is doing you a BIG favour.

I regularly dogsit for a dear friend of mine when she travels for work...and although I love her dogs, it can be a pain. It is inconvenient not having ready access to your clothes/books/toiletries/electronics /foods/spices- it takes extra time and organization, and is actually quite inconvenient. She pays me $25 a day and is happy to do so. Of course, she lives in small condo and has no amenities such as cable or internet. You do have internet, right? You are planning to leave your wireless password?

So, I think you should pay him, and at least $200. At the very least, it's great that you have a nice liquor cabinet, but what about the other comforts of home? You need to be thinking about:

Stocking the house with food and drink - meals, snacks, and staples like coffee, butter, etc. It's always nice to ask for a list too. Also, ask him if he cooks and if so, what staples he needs. Does he eat breakfast? What kinds?

As I mentioned before, can he use your wireless network? Does he have a laptop? If not, it would be nice to give him access to your computer. Are your electronics easy to use? Have you left instructions for cable, stereo, etc? Bathroom stocked with all the essentials. I have house-sit before to discover that there was no soap in the bathroom.

Finally, if your neighbourhood is not familiar to him, instructions for nearest gas station/convenience store/coffee shop etc. are useful.

I apologize if you have thought of all this, but if you have happened never to house-sit before yourself, you might not know all the things to think about. Except when I was a student living in very very sketch housing, I have always found it surprisingly inconvenient to house sit.
posted by Ladysin at 8:04 PM on March 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

I house-sat in my 20s and I'd say $100 a week was standard and I would not have done it for free. I was always permitted to eat the food in the house, though never had alcohol thrown in. That's nice but it's not the same as payment in recognition of the service being provided.

It is real work and comes with a certain amount of stress. You don't know how the systems work, you feel extremely responsible for the house and pets and security, it can be hard to sleep because you don't know what sounds are normal/safe, and you worry that something is going to go wrong like a water heater bursting, small tasks like making breakfast take much longer because you don't know where all the utensils are or where they go away once you've washed them. Your routines are different, and it's as difficult as traveling in that you have to plan for your time there and bring all your needed work clothes, medications, toiletries, etc.

Also, offering some payment, even small, after your return provides a measure of security for you. He'll want to leave things in good condition so there will be no issue about the payment.
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If it's actually like a little vacation for him (closer to downtown, not living with his parents) plus you're generous enough to open your liquor cabinet, do what my friend's parents did when I house sat for them and give him $50 for some food. Plus a gift from your travels. He's not a professional house sitter and if you haven't talked about it already I'm sure he's not expecting much more.
posted by CookieNose at 8:36 PM on March 13, 2012

Wow, now I feel like I'm way overpaying my housesitter. We have 2 rambunctious dogs and our house never has any food in it. We leave $70/night usually - we are in a pretty expensive area. We figure we'd pay more than that to board the dogs.
posted by troublesome at 8:44 PM on March 13, 2012

I was paid about $250 to cat- and house-sit for 2 weeks a couple of times. This was a much more enticing deal when I lived with my parents (I get paid to have my own wonderful apartment?) and somewhat less so by the time I had my own place (which costs more than $125/week), though I still did it, having a great fondness for both cat and people involved here. This was in New York, and I was also allowed to eat whatever I wanted from the house, though didn't take much advantage. I think a little less than what I was paid would probably be reasonable—I assume cats (especially the one I sat for, who had definite dog-like qualities) are more labor intensive than plants/lizard. For instance, I felt somewhat beholden to come home early in the evening, whereas I think it might not be the same for your housesitter. Maybe $100/week?
posted by mlle valentine at 8:53 PM on March 13, 2012

Best answer: As a young 20-something who loves the opportunity to house-sit, I'd say you're pretty on point.

Additionally, I think there's a big difference between house-sitting and pet-sitting, which is why you're seeing such variance in pay rates in answers here. In my opinion, lizard watching is far less time-consuming than cat or dog sitting.
posted by jaksemas at 9:03 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You pay them because you're asking them to vacate their home to stay in a strange place.

The "free run of a great house -- why pay them?" view is unrealistic. I would ALWAYS rather be in my own home than some stranger's house, even when their house is magnificent.

It's Barbara Bush level condescension to not pay them just because they're used to so much worse.

(Sorry, I know this is nothing like Barbara Bush but that quote of hers makes me laugh.)
posted by jayder at 9:11 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I house sat for a family (of assholes) that actually charged ME rent for the honor. I was in a bad spot so I accepted. However in other situations I've usually received about $50 a day or a nice bottle of wine and a gift card. I also agree that scheduling a housekeeper before you return is a great idea.
posted by Kloryne at 10:52 PM on March 13, 2012

A friend house-sat for us for 2 weeks, but she was trading in not-privacy at her current digs for privacy at ours. We explicitly told her to eat all the food in the house if she desired, left her a credit card for in case the pets needed anything, left her an extensive call list, and when we got back, we took her out to a really, really awesome thank you dinner.

If she hadn't been as close a friend, we probably would have given her the money instead of taking her out to dinner, but we enjoy her company. Then again, I probably wouldn't let anyone with whom we weren't close stay with our cats, so this is all theoretical.

Souvenir, $100, access to the liquor cabinet. Sounds good. Make sure that he has adequate access to cover any vet emergencies.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:12 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

there's a big difference between house-sitting and pet-sitting

Weeellll, this totally depends on the house. Burglar alarms? Snow shoveling? Extensive plant watering? Taking out trash/recycling? Lots of packages/mail sorting? Monitoring messages? Supervising other staff (cleaning people, gardeners)? Putting stuff in the mail? Dealing with people picking stuff up?
posted by Miko at 7:01 AM on March 14, 2012

I've been in his shoes, and it's kind of like a vacation - shorter commute, house to yourself!, etc

You should be very clear that he can help himself to any food or liquor he finds and that he should make himself at home, and you should leave some food - don't leave it all empty like you normally would before a vacation. Leave $200 with a note that he should use it to treat himself to anything that he doesn't find at the house. Bring back something small from your trip.
posted by mrs. taters at 7:27 AM on March 14, 2012

I should be clear that more than $200 would be kind of off - $50 a day for this situation doesn't make sense to me. $150 would be okay, but I'd err on the side of a little more generous, just because it's nice.
posted by mrs. taters at 7:30 AM on March 14, 2012

I house-sit (well, pet-sit, at their house) for people, and I charge $35/day, which is me there almost all day, walking or playing or cuddling the pet, watering plants etc if need be, signing for deliveries, and so forth. I keep to as few rooms as possible to take care of the pet, bring my own bedding and all my own food (well, sometimes if they insist I eat leftovers before they go bad, I make an effort)... so I don't consider myself having 'free run' of the house, just 'living lightly'; I'm there for the animals, not the house. I get tips (or gifts like T-shirts or souvies from where the people went) about 75% of the time. Hope this helps!
posted by The otter lady at 8:11 AM on March 14, 2012

We used to have a sitter that took care of our dogs (2) and cats (2). She did not charge and we were a much, much, much closer commute. She never ever asked for anything (and we gave up asking how much we should pay her).

We used her services for, I think, about four years and eight weeklong+ trips. In the end, we always provided a gift of some kind for her, or her son. Anything from a real football jersey for her son to a weeklong timeshare in Florida.

Local professional sitters wanted anywhere from $50 to $100 per night so she was saving us a bundle while we were saving her a lot of time. (She didn't drink and did not avail herself of any food we left so we stopped doing that.) On top of that she had our trust - and the animals LOVED her.
posted by Man with Lantern at 10:58 AM on March 14, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice everyone! We left him money for general expenses and will get him a thank you gift when we get back as well.

Regarding some of the other questions, we did leave him the wireless password and a media center full of movies and TV series. I got the impression getting out of his parent's house for a bit was a mini vacation for him, so I hope that should be sufficient.
posted by chundo at 12:58 PM on March 14, 2012

Response by poster: Also our housekeeper will be coming to clean before we get home.
posted by chundo at 1:03 PM on March 14, 2012

Sounds you like got it covered. Have a great trip!
posted by Ladysin at 10:06 PM on March 14, 2012

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